Liquor store advertisement pioneers a new bigotry
“Bum-free for eight days and counting! Wish us luck!”
So read an advertisement for Ace Discount Liquors that ran in the Sept. 20 edition of The Onion. Next to the caption is a minstrel-like photograph of a white man made to look like Ace’s idea of a bum: week-old beard, blacked and yellowed teeth, crazy eyes and a deranged expression.
In his hand he raises a paper bag, seemingly containing a bottle of booze. This, for those of you who did not know, is what we (and Ace) want to avoid. This is a bum.
Bums are not people. They do not have homes or clean faces. They exist only to remind us that we belong to a higher echelon, an echelon characterized by responsibility, accountability, social and financial security.
We are nothing like the bums. They chose to be homeless; they chose to be drunks. They do not wash themselves because it is not important to them.
Each and every bum that we have ever met has chosen his own destiny and that is why it’s perfectly acceptable to laugh at him, to stereotype him. No circumstances beyond his control put him where he is, no war or lay-off or disability nor mental illness.
He is not us, and we are better. And it is an American tradition to make sure that those that are lesser than us do not ever forget it.
Think back, if you will, a hundred years into our national past. Vaudeville boomed, and a major player in Vaudeville was the minstrel, or black-face act. During the minstrel act, white audiences whooped it up, slapped each other’s backs and reveled in the innocent camaraderie that came with belittling an entire lesser race on stage.
It was fun to watch a single white man portraying the entire black race, cakewalking between stage lights, spitting watermelon seeds into the air, countin’ pennies and whistlin’ Dixie.
Was there a high level of verisimilitude to the performance? Was that the way blacks really are?
The answer was unimportant and the question seldom asked. Blacks were not whites, were not as good as whites and that’s really all the whites needed to know.
A crucial component to the success of Vaudeville was the minstrel act precisely because during that act the entire house could laugh, and be bonded to each other by that laughter, which was directed at an entity that was not “us,” but “them.”
Exclusion of one decided faction is a powerful means for the feeling of inclusion among all other factions. Be it the Jews, the blacks, the gays or the homeless; it is fun to laugh at the underdog. He will only whimper and hide his tail between his legs, providing yet another opportunity for the rest of us to chuckle and thank Christ we were not born like those people.
So I would like to offer kudos to Ace Discount Liquors and The Onion for reviving the harmless, “all in good fun” concept of the minstrel and focusing it on a new group of sub humans, the homeless.
These people should be laughed at and do not deserve beer.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Andrew Frankel at firstname.lastname@example.org